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In Alastair Reynolds' On the Steel Breeze, the physicist Travertine has vis own set of personal pronouns, something like

ve (nominative)
ver (accusative)
vis (genitive)
verself (reflexive)

Why?

I thought of the character as male, but maybe I missed something.

  • I read a lot of Greg Egan myself, so when I first encountered Tavertine in 'On a Steel Breeze' I assumed he was an artificial intelligence... I'm less than a quarter of a way through it myself so I don't know if he is or isn't an AI yet - although it seems the society in this universe is against it - so perhaps he/she's just gender neutral. The future is so progressive, haha. I actually came here to see if he is in fact an AI, because other than the pronouns they don't really allude to him being one. – user59665 Jan 20 '16 at 19:40
  • I'm pretty sure ve's not an AI. – Rhythmic Fistman Jan 20 '16 at 21:36
6

Alastair Reynolds was asked about these pronouns in his blog comments (many people have simply assumed it was a typo or a mistake in the printing process). He replied in another comment:

They’re not errors – those are gender-neutral pronouns for the character Travertine.

This means the pronouns are a deliberate attempt not to imply a male or female gender for the character. Gender-neutral pronouns aren’t in particularly common use, but they do exist, and this is just one such example.

There’s a good explanation of gender-neutral pronouns, and a list of others that you might encounter, on Wikipedia. Of this particular pronoun, Ve, it says this:

Proposed by New Zealand writer Keri Hulme some time in the 1980s. Also used by writer Greg Egan for non-gendered artificial intelligences and “asex” humans.

Note that the Wikipedia entry also has a list of the different forms of the pronoun, which seems to line up with the list in your question.

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